The need for collaboration among construction project team members but the difficulty of getting people to share ideas was a continuing theme among speakers and attendees at the European Construction Institute conference June 13-14 in London.

ECI is a pan-European network of companies and organizations whose goal is delivering construction excellence. Members share best practices and work on teams to identify critical industry issues.   ECI then works with universities to do research around those issues. It is affiliated with other global groups including the Construction Industry Institute based at the University of Texas in Austin.

I met Alistair Gibb, ECI strategic lead and professor of complex project management at Loughborough University, when he spoke at the CII annual meeting last year about the excellent safety record of the London Olympics. That meeting and a recommendation from CII Executive Director Wayne Crew led to an invitation for me to give a keynote at the ECI event. They asked me to recast the lecture I gave at Virginia Tech last fall for the more global audience. It was a great opportunity to meet ECI members and hear about construction issues from the European point of view.

Andrew Wolstenholme, CEO of Crossrail, London’s $14.8-billion program to accelerate travel time across the metro area, emphasized the need to create a collaboration culture like Rolls Royce or Apple. He acknowledged that “people can be quite cagey about good ideas,” and noted that to enable an open ideas transfer that creates “value up the supply chain,” there has to be something in it for the company and something in it for the individual. “You can’t buy innovation or insist on it, Wolstenholme added, “We have to show 43,000 people that it’s worth their while to make Crossrail better.” Examples they have considered—not that they necessarily will use—include adapting heat recovery segments from geothermal systems to take heat away from the tunnels or providing power using wind turbines in an offshore power park, he said. The Crossrail project also has a heavy implementation of mobile technology.

John Dyson, vice president and head of global capital projects for healthcare company GlaxoSmithKine, also turned to the question of what needs to change in owner organizations to delivery collaboration? He acknowledged that squeezing down to the “lowest possible price” may not necessarily deliver the best overall project performance. “Cost is one of the elements that are important,” but not the only one, he said.

Alistair Gibb gave attendees an introduction to work under way to investigate the possible health hazards of nanoparticles.  He said some researchers say “nano” is the next asbestos, while others say that is scare-mongering. But he pointed out growing concerns over questions such as to what extent do nano particles in building materials come off in weather or through recycling or demolition? Do they leach into groundwater when disposed of in landfills?  “We don’t know what we don’t know, and we don’t know how to manage this,” said Gibb.

Neil Porter, the fit-out site manager for the new Terminal Two at Heathrow Airport, gave a guided tour of the construction site to ECI attendees. “Queen Elizabeth has just given permission to use her name so Terminal Two will now be called The Queen’s Terminal,” Porter noted. More than 2,500 workers are pushing to complete the $3.8 billion terminal by November.

Contractors working on terminal two include Ferrovial Agroman, Balfour Beatty and Laing O'Rourke. Work includes the 12-gate main building, a 1,300-car parking garage, and a satellite building called T2B, which will have 16 boarding gates and be linked to the main building by a walkway under the airfield.